Years ago, my wife was a high school biology teacher. Like many before her, she had classroom pets, including a ball python. Relegated to a 20L aquarium full of aspen chips, the snake was healthy, but we yearned for more. After a career change, move, and the birth of our first child, the time was ripe to rehome Monty Python into his very own bioactive enclosure.
We selected a 75 gallon front opening terrarium, found on Craigslist for $100. I installed a faux rock background (from Universal Rocks, or you can make your own with help from this blog) and went to town. I decided to base this build off a past crested gecko bioactive enclosure, and used Josh's Frogs BioBedding Tropical as a base. It's designed to be used without a drainage layer, contains a ton of trace minerals and beneficial fungi, and is ready to use right out of the bag.
I applied a 4-5"" thick layer to the bottom of the enclosure, then added a few gallons of water. The goal was to moisten the substrate to the point where it stuck together if squeezed, but no water came out. This was a bit wetter than it needed to be for the ball python, but helped the plants establish quickly.
This was followed by a very important step - placing of hardscape. It was important to provide the ball python (or any inhabitants) with a way to get off the substrate and ensure the animal is able to dry out. Not doing so will result in scale rot, so make sure you're being very intentional about this. We went with a large artificial rock that doubled as a hide and basking site to the left, as well as a hollow cork log to provide cover on the cooler end of the vivarium.
Then, it was time to plant! We went with some variegated Ficus benjamina to mimic tree saplings - I find the variegated form grows pretty slowly, too. A Norfolk pine, left over from the previous Christmas, replicated a small conifer behind the log on the right. I also included some Korean Rock fern and an Agalonema, which typically blooms every 4-6 months. This plant does prefer moist soil, so I positioned it behind the water bowl, which I overfill every time water is topped off.
We wanted to go with a subtropical/dry forest feel, so a covering of both magnolia and live oak leaf litter, as well as sheet moss, made up the ground cover. The sheet moss has held up well. A year later, it is still staying green and not breaking down, while more leaf litter is added every 4-6 months.
A large, easy to clean water bowl was added on the right side. The bowl is removed and cleaned weekly (sooner if Monty uses it as a toilet), and new water is added. I overfill the bowl every time, to add some humidity back into the substrate. You want to be able to grab the substrate in your hands and have it stick together, but do not want any water running out. The enclosure is misted 2-3 times a week. Ambient humidity is in the 50s, and humidity in the hides is generally 80%+.
Heat is provided by a 70W Exo Terra SunRay metal halide bulb, which is run for 12 hours a day and provides a hot spot of about 95F. Plant lighting consists of a dual HOT5 fixture, running 2 46"" 6500K daylight bulbs, and is left on for 14 hours, providing an hour of dawn and dusk for Monty.
In this naturalistic enclosure, the ball python spends about 90% of his time out of site, either in the hide below the basking spot or the cork log on the right of the enclosure. A day or two before feeding time, he does tend to begin exploring the cage, looking for his next meal. Sheds are complete, and the snake is growing at a steady rate - his growth seemed to have stopped in the previous, spartan setup. As you can see, he's one happy snake!
If you're looking to make your ball python happy like Monty, check out our Ball Python Kits. We offer tankless kits for 20L aquarium, 40B aquarium, 24x18 and 36x18 Glass Terraria, as well a complete 24x18x18 Exo Terra bioactive kit for younger ball pythons!